Primary History

Anglo-Saxons: Invasion and settlement

  • Peaceful settlement?

    Some Anglo-Saxons came to Britain to fight, but others came peacefully, to find land to farm. The Anglo-Saxons knew Britain was a rich land. Their own lands often flooded, making it difficult to grow enough food. There was not enough land for everyone.

    Whole families set off across the North Sea in small boats. Each boatload of people formed a settlement with its own leader. They brought their tools, weapons, belongings and farm animals with them to Britain.

    Back to top

  • The real King Arthur

    After the Roman soldiers left in AD410, Britain no longer had a strong army to defend it. There were battles between Anglo-Saxons and Britons. In AD491, for instance, a fight for the Roman fort at Pevensey in Sussex was won by the Anglo-Saxons, who killed all the Britons in the fort.

    Later people told stories of British leaders who fought the invaders. One was Ambrosius Aurelianus (a Roman name). Another was King Arthur. We do not know if there was a real Arthur. Most of the stories about him and his Knights of the Round Table come much later in history. Legend says Arthur won a great battle around AD500, but he could not stop more Anglo-Saxons coming.

    Back to top

  • Where did the newcomers settle?

    Whether they settled peacefully, or drove the Britons from their lands, the Anglo-Saxons took control of most of Britain. However, they never conquered Scotland, Wales or Cornwall. The historian Bede, who lived in the 700s, wrote that Angles settled in East Anglia, the East Midlands and further north in Northumbria. Saxons moved in to Sussex (named after the 'South Saxons'), Essex (East Saxons), Middlesex (Middle Saxons) and Wessex (West Saxons). Jutes settled mainly in Kent, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight.

    Back to top

  • How did England get its name?

    The Roman Britons spoke Latin or local Celtic languages. The newcomers spoke their own languages, which in time became a language now known as Anglo-Saxon or Old English. The Anglo-Saxons themselves called it 'Englisc'. The country taken over by the new settlers became 'England'.

    Some Britons settled down with the newcomers. Others moved west and north, taking their Latin-Celtic culture with them. Place names give clues to where the new 'English' lived. A place-name ending in -ham, for instance, shows it was once a Saxon settlement. Ham in Anglo-Saxon English meant 'village'.

    Back to top

Fun Facts
  • Wic or wich in a place name comes from an Old English word wich meaning 'farm' or 'village'. Examples: Ipswich, Dulwich, Droitwich.

  • The Anglo-Saxons were brave fighters. But they were scared of evil spirits and monsters.

  • One group of Anglo-Saxon invaders were called the Haestingas. They gave their name to the seaside town of Hastings.

  • Stories about King Arthur crop up all over Britain - in Wales, Cornwall, in the west of England and as far north as Scotland.

  • Some people think Arthur is buried at Glastonbury, in Somerset. In the Middle Ages, people said he wasn't dead at all, but sleeping.

  • Arthur is said to have had a magical sword called Excalibur. Celts and Anglo-Saxons thought swords could have special powers.

BBC navigation

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.

Jump to: A-D | E-L | M-R | S-Z

A to D

ale
Drink made from barley.
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle
A history of England begun in the 800s.
archaeologist
A person who finds out about the past by looking at old objects or buildings that are buried under the ground.
barn
A farm building.
Bayeux Tapestry
An embroidery telling the story of the Norman Conquest in 1066.
Bede
An English monk and historian. He lived from about 673 to 735.
Beowulf
A long poem about a hero, probably made up before AD 800, and written down later.
brooch
Ornament used to fasten clothing.
capital
The main town or centre of government of a country.
Celts
People in Britain before the Romans invaded in AD43.
Charlemagne
King of the Franks and Holy Roman Emperor.
charm
A magical object or words, to protect a person from harm.
Christian
A person who follows the religion taught by Jesus Christ.
conquer
To beat an enemy and control them using force.
court
The place where a king meets his followers and gives commands.
cremate
To burn a dead body to ashes.

E to L

evidence
Objects and facts that give clues as to what happened long ago.
freeman
A person who was not a slave and owned land.
Hadrian's Wall
Wall marking the northern frontier of Roman Britain.
historian
A person who studies the past.
hearth
A fireplace, usually in the middle of a house, and with no chimney.
influence
The effect of a person or things on another.
invaders
People who attack and try to take over land from other people.
Latin
Language of the Romans.
longship
Viking ship with a sail and oars.
loom
Machine for weaving cloth.
lyre
A small harp played at Anglo-Saxon feasts.

M to R

mail shirt
Armour made from chain mail, worn on the upper body.
monastery
The building where monks live.
monk
A male member of a religious group, living, praying and working together and following a set of rules.
nun
A female member of a religious group, living, praying and working together and following a set of rules.
oxen
Strong cattle used to pull carts and ploughs.
pagan
A person who worships many gods.
Picts
People who lived in Scotland at the time of Roman Britain.
Pope
Head of the Roman Catholic Church.
potter
Person who makes pots, jars and bowls from clay.
raider
An enemy who attacks and then goes away.
rank
Status or position in society.
Reconstruct
To rebuild something as it was.
riddle
A puzzle based on playing with words.
Romans
People who ruled an empire 2,000 years ago
runes
The letters of the Anglo-Saxon alphabet.

S to Z

Scots
People in Scotland; they called themselves Gaels - 'Scots' was a name the Romans gave them.
settlement
A place where people make their homes.
slave
A person who is not free but is owned and made to work by another.
smith
A worker who makes things from metal, usually iron.
strip fields
Long narrow ploughed fields.
Sutton Hoo
Site in Suffolk, England, of a king's ship-burial.
thane
An Anglo-Saxon nobleman who owned land.
thatch
A roof covered in straw or reeds.
tribe
A group of people who share a common background and culture.
Vikings
People from Scandinavia who were fighters, sea-travellers, traders and farmers.
walled
Having a defensive wall or wooden barrier around it, such as a walled town.
warrior
A person trained to fight in battle.
weaving
Making cloth.
well
A hole dug to supply drinking water to a settlement or house.
Wergild
Money paid to a murdered Anglo-Saxon's family by the murderer.
will
A document setting out how a person wants their possessions shared out after death.